Hard work transgresses struggle. Junior year I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Panama and my distant family. Despite their daily struggles and apparent poverty, Panamanians are said to be the happiest people in the world. I was told this rumor before I went, and during my stay I witnessed their rich culture.
On my return back to the states I became lost. My work ethic deteriorated and I became increasingly numb. How could a whole nation live on the poverty line, yet be happier than me? Why did my hard work for the past three years amount to so little when I looked inside of my heart?
It’s important to say I worked so hard freshman year to prove myself. I wanted to rise against the odds and stand out. However, sophomore year it was for the resume. My many activities were agenda items- irrelevant to my heart’s desires. By junior year I was exhausted. I was drowning in school, found myself uninterested in my long list of activities, and had nothing left to prove. I had reached all my goals and I was too tired to set new ones. Then I visited Panama and my perspective changed.
I had realized I had been working so hard for the past three years, and for what? The honor? The resume? For college? Those materialistic goals weren’t my freshman intent many years ago. I searched and searched for why I had exhausted myself in high school. I found no answer… until recently.
This past summer I sat mi abuela down and asked her why Panamanians were so happy. I knew when I returned to school I couldn’t let my grades drop again or become disinterested in my activities. Yet, I pondered how they could be so happy working on minimum wage and I was so sad getting straight A’s. With all the sincerity in the world I asked, “Should I stop working hard?”
Gently laughing she said, “Panamanian people work very hard their whole lives. Unfortunately, their nation only gives them so much reward for their sweat and labor. They’re happy because they value every little thing their hard work creates. You work very hard Mirella, but you lack appreciation.” She said this looking into my eyes, smiled gently, and kissed my cheek.
Then it all came to me. I was right to work hard. I was right in overcoming social trials. I was right in staying up all night for a paper or spending all day running school errands. Hard work has motivated my life’s actions. My hard work is justified every time I act, because I live in a first world country; anything less than my best would be an injustice. During my reflection, I also realize Panamanians fully take advantage and cherish everything they are given. In their circumstances it’s mostly rich, delicious food and vibrant community. In America my circumstances offer different things: education, financial stability, government, freedom, and so many others. I am proud to have such a wonderful life. My intention: continually offer my whole self to every thing I do. Though I have always seen the benefits of hard work, I now feel its everlasting effect on my character.
I realize this essay doesn’t account for my time during Panama. I choose to discuss the effect of the trip rather than the trip itself. That being said, what good is travel if we do not carry something spiritually tangible back with us?
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